I happened to read Letters from the Dead over Halloween weekend and it turned out to be an excellent, spooky choice. As you may have gathered from the title, it does indeed involve elements of the supernatural but it is also, in essence, a thriller / historical murder mystery.
Opening sentence: A veil of darkness spreads.
This is the second novel from Sam Hurcom featuring lead character Thomas Bexley. Hurcom’s debut novel, A Shadow on the Lens is heavily referenced, as it is the story of events in Bexley’s life that lead him to be in the situation and mental state he is in when we meet him here. But if, like me, you haven’t read it, it won’t affect your enjoyment or understanding of this story. So crack on with reading Letters from the Dead!
There’s a serial killer on the loose…
1905: Thomas Bexley is a special investigator with the Metropolitan police and he has had to take a leave of absence from work due to a rather disturbing murder case he worked on the year previously in a small Welsh village (the plot of the aforementioned book 1).
But, when a serial killer, known as the Wraith of London, is discovered to be working his way through the city, the police call on Bexley for his services, as he has a link to their prime suspect, Elijah Hawthorn.
‘Eleven known kidnappings so far, and we believe every victim to date is dead, though we can’t find any of the bodies.’
There’s a nice reference to Jack the Ripper too (and reminded me of the excellent People of Abandoned Character, which has the ripper murders as its theme) as this fictional murder spree is set just after the ripper murders, which happened in 1888.
Bexley might be hesitant to get involved, and in not much of a mental state to do so either, but he finds a letter from Elijah that he has to follow up. This leads to a trip to an isolated manor in Scotland, a prison escape and a lot of gruesome encounters.
I see dead people
The other element woven into this high-octane murder mystery is the reason that Bexley has been struggling to function for the past year and developed an alcohol addiction… he is visited regularly by ghosts. And not the friendly kind. With the exception of Beatrice. Bexley come to rely on her and, yes, I think develops one or two feelings…
This makes Bexley a most unreliable of narrators, so you’re often left wondering if you can believe his version of events and questioning what’s happening. This is, of course, an excellent addition to a murder mystery. Nothing like a an unreliable narrator to keep things interesting…
In keeping with being told to us by a man at the turn of the 20th century, there is an archaic tone running through it. I like that, it really helped set the scene and bring Bexley’s character to life. It also made it feel different to a lot of other novels I’ve read recently.
I would say that Letters from the Dead felt a few pages longer than it needed to be, some sections were quite long and overly descriptive, with elements of the chase taking time to get to where you know they are going to end up BUT I can see that this was in keeping with its archaic tone and structure that mimics early 20th century novels. What’s important is that it had me hooked, I really enjoyed Thomas Bexley’s character and loved the blend of good-old murder mystery with supernatural elements.
- Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC;
- Published by Orion 26th November 2020;
- 384 pages;
- My rating:
We are being told what happens in retrospect, as Bexley’s opening address to the reader is dated 1914